Comparisons of the disaster of 9/11 to Pearl Harbor break down in the aftermath. What I remember is getting a phone call from my wife to turn on the news, any news, and then seeing the images on CNN. I then called several people, including some on the west coast, early as it was.
It was a binding experience.
Then the silence of the skies for next few days. All planes grounded. We don’t pay attention to all that background noise until it disappears.
And I remember wanting to strike back.
But at who?
I am not a reflex pacifist. I do not believe in turning the other cheek as an automatic gesture. The world, in the aggregate, does not yield to such gestures until much blood is spent, and disgust comes to the aid of the peaceful intent. Strike at me, hurt my family and friends, threaten my home, I have no compunction about the use of violence.
But not thoughtless lashing out, flailing, blind retaliation. That does less good than the habitual use of peaceful surrender. If we were to find these people, we needed to be smart about it, and move carefully. When caught, punishment must be determined accordingly.
That was not to be. I watched our so-called leaders turn this event into a justification for major abuse globally. The sympathy we had from the entire world evaporated as the United States began stomping around acting like a pissed off child whose lunch money had been taken by a bully. But we were not small and weak, so embracing the automatic response of schoolyard tactics resulted in calamity. I was horrified by the unfolding nightmare of the Bush years, all done supposedly in my name as a citizen.
The aftermath of Pearl Harbor was horrible but not cause for self-loathing and shame. We rose to an occasion that demanded sacrifice and we came to the aid of a world gone mad. The enemy was clear, the stakes enormous, the calculations easy enough. Ugly as WWII was, our response was as close to noble as war can bestow, and we have carried ourselves with pride born out of that period for going on 70 years now.
Not so after 9/11.
We were struck in 1941 by a nation that officially declared war upon us. We knew who they were, what they stood for, and where to find them. It was a conflict of clear adversaries fighting as nations.
The 9/11 aggressors were a band of people more like the mafia, with no nation, no formal declaration of war, and no clear face. We had a few names, a few associations. We didn’t know how to deal with this, so we pretended it was just like any other war, shoved the awkward details into the box called War, and attacked as if nations could be blamed.
After WWII we could expect and received formal surrenders from nations authorized to sign such instruments. Rebuilding began, and it could be argued that THAT was the real victory.
Who will sign a surrender in this conflict? Who can? What would it look like? And how do you rebuild something these very same enemies keep knocking down and by so doing make us knock them down as well, along with all the innocent people who just get in the way?
There was a time hatred could not act on its own in such a vast theater—it required nations to enable it and give it reach. That’s changed.
It seems to me we need to start figuring out how to rid ourselves of hate. We can’t do that if we keep hurting the very people we need to help.
Our job has been made infinitely harder because of the schoolyard bully mentality of the administration that dragged us into this fray in the aftermath of national tragedy. We may never regain the credibility needed to address the real issues. That is the loss I continue to mourn on this day.
The dead cannot be blamed for the acts of the living, and revenge is a cold legacy for the sacrifice of the honorable.